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Syllabuzz: GST 369 – Men and Masculinities

Find out more about some of the interesting courses faculty are teaching at Elon.


Picture, if you will, what it means to be a man: His appearance. His job. His family. His behavior. Now, consider whether that image would be the same if you were born a century ago or in another part of the world. Makes you think, eh?

Students in anthropology Professor Anne Bolin’s general studies Men and Masculinities class have learned that how you define “masculinity” isn’t simple. As society and norms evolve, particularly in the United States with the proliferation of stay-at-home dads, same-sex marriage and men’s fashion, it’s near impossible. In fact, Bolin argues that “masculinity” isn’t the proper word.

It’s “masculinities.”

“Our ideas of what we think men and women should be continue to change over time,” Bolin says. “Students are going to understand that their particular place in history is shifting. They aren’t like their parents, and their children won’t be like them.”

An expert in the study of gender, embodiment and human sexuality, Bolin brings her own experiences to the class. A longtime participant in female bodybuilding competitions, she can point to behaviors among the Arnold Schwarzeneggers of the world and interpret the cultural practices of a “masculinity” that focuses on body image, wearing tanning lotion and fretting about calories while paradoxically emphasizing a relentless athleticism to build muscles.

The American bodybuilding culture is just one phenomenon Bolin’s students encounter in their studies. They also learn how expectations for “manly” behavior in many cultures, including the United States, result in shorter life expectancies because of health issues, how a transgendered woman lives life as a man, and how views of men are shaped by the structure of society and thus vary across cultures.

For the record, she says, the course is not intended to be a lesson in “men bashing.” Sitting in her corner office on the second floor of Lindner Hall, Bolin leans forward to make her point. “I’m not here to teach students ‘it’sGeorge and Joe’s fault that society is the way it is,’ but to understand the ecological and economic underpinnings of gender disparity,” she says with a smile. “We’ve had women’s studies since the 1970s in the United States. Men’s studies are more recent and are very important, too.”

About the professor
Bolin joined the Elon faculty in 1988 and teaches in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. She received the university’s Distinguished Scholar Award in 2001 and is currently working on a four-volume anthropological encyclopedia about human sexuality to be published by Wiley-Blackwell, the largest global publisher of anthropological scholarship.

Recommended readings
The Sambia: Ritual, Sexuality and Change in Papua New Guinea by Gilbert Herdt
The Caveman Mystique by Martha McCaughey
The American Men’s Studies Association, mensstudies.org

Syllabuzz is a recurrent feature in The Magazine of Elon. To read the latest edition, click here.

By Eric Townsend

Keren Rivas,
9/5/2012 8:18 AM